In my mind, plum jam indicates that summer is in full swing.
Images of my mom leaning over a hot stove; of condensation dripping down the windows in a small stifling kitchen made even more sauna-like by the boiling batches of jam. But the smell of the jam cooking takes me back to the beginning of so many summers when I was a wee lad. Even today, when I smell it I have to remind myself that despite the presence of summer—I won’t be off work for the next ten weeks.
My parents have an old plum tree planted behind their garage in a space far too small for how big the tree has become. Even in this drought year, with no irrigation—it still produced a ridiculously large amount of Santa Rosa plums. They also have a fruit basket tree with apricots, doughnut peaches, and you guessed it—Santa Rosa plums. When I was young, my dad would send a kid up a ladder to pick the gnarly old tree clean and he’d make a joke about the tree being naked. My dad really is the king of the dad joke. In later years, he picked the trees all himself, bringing the plums inside to the jam-maker-in-chief.
The plums usually come ripe around Father’s Day. Last year, my parents, with an assist from my sister, made approximately three gallons of jam. This year, things are different. My dad’s been in the hospital since August, and my mom spends much of her time with the love-of-her-life at his side, so today my oldest kiddo and I picked probably close to 20 pounds. Snuffles assisted by not getting in the way—which for a giant dog like him is actually quite a significant accomplishment. We had fun—harvesting fruit is always kind of magical for my girl, especially if I let her climb the ladder for a while.
We took half of them home, and I cut them up to make jam. They are in the freezer at present awaiting the hour it will take (optimistically!) to turn them into summer in a jar.
But today, working alongside my daughter to pick jam—though if I had my druthers (what are druthers?) I wish my Pops were well enough to pick them instead—there was gratitude in my heart. I picked fruit with my dad. Now my kid picks fruit with me. A line of succession? Maybe so. But ultimately, I’m grateful to still have my dad this Father’s Day when there were times when it didn’t look like I would. And I’m grateful for the lessons he taught me about fatherhood on that day and always without ever actually saying anything about teaching lessons. I’m not a perfect father. But I’m a good one, and this kid, and my kids, are alright.